I read a very interesting article in the December edition of BBC Wildlife about long-eared owls. This beautiful species of owl, distinguished by it long ear tufts and orange eyes, is a truly nocturnal hunter and spends the daylight hours roosting in hedgerows and pine trees. In this country, long-eared owls are comparatively rare with probably only about 3,500 breeding pairs but in Serbia this owl is extremely common with massive roosts of hundreds of birds. Long-eared owls feed on small rodents and, as rodenticides are not commonly used in Serbia, so food is not a problem. The article also suggests that this species of owl is partial to blue tits as well. In 1968, I discovered a long-eared owl roost in the gorse bushes at Martlesham Heath long before the former airfield was developed into a housing estate. Eight birds roosted during the daytime in the tangled, aged branches of gorse, quite close to the former Barrack Square. This was of course a winter roost, but one spring I also found long-eared owls nesting in an old crow’s nest in a pine tree. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a pair of orange eyes glaring at me from a pile of heaped twigs.
I have noticed that during the past year hobbies were rarely seen on my patch. In previous years young were raised and there were at least three pairs of this beautiful falcon nesting in the area between Ipswich and Woodbridge. Not so last year. However, common buzzards are on the increase. Could there be a connection here? It has been suggested that with the increase in buzzards, red kites and goshawks, those smaller birds of prey (hobby and kestrel in particular) have decreased. I know goshawks will take almost anything, but the theory is that maybe in areas in which the other two larger birds of prey inhabit, hobbies and kestrels prefer to avoid due to the competition for available food. I have no proof of this but I found no hobby nests in 2018.
I have just received my copy of Suffolk Birds 2017. This superb record of the birds, both common and rare, found during 2017 is published by the Suffolk Naturalists Society and compiled by the Suffolk Ornithologists Group. The editor is Nick Mason but the man who ran his beady eye over this systematic list is my friend, Philip Murphy. Therefore this publication could not fail to be good. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book is the best of its kind in the country. As well as excellent reporting of individual species, a check-list of birds seen and the ringing of birds for the year, it is highlighted by what I can only describe as superb drawings and artwork. A copy can be obtained from the Ipswich Museum at the moderate cost of £10.
Incidentally, it is proposed that the Suffolk Ornithologists Group should change its name to The Suffolk Bird Group so as to encourage the interest of younger people since the word ‘ornithologist’ is not in common use nowadays. I am in favour of this change but we will see! Also the SOG is conducting a Rook Survey during this year to determine the status of this corvid in Suffolk and compare it to the first survey completed 40 years ago. As with the previous survey, the county will be divided into squares and rooks’ nests, easy to see before the leaves appear on the trees, will be counted. It will be interesting to see how this iconic crow is faring and if modern farming methods/land use have had any effect on it.